By Elle Winfield, Class of ’19

To begin my explorations into the impact of terrorism, I wanted to capture the narratives and anecdotes from the ways peoples daily lives have been touched by state and non-state actors. My first account therefore comes from Lebanon, a country and experience I will truly never forget. Recollections of an intimate interview series on arguably the first victims of international ‘Terrorism’; refugees. 

‘All I want is to go home, lay beneath an Olive tree and die’

Those words did not attack me three days ago. They came to me masquerading in a crinkled smile, on a foreign tongue that calmed through cracked teeth, content insidious to the warm happiness of your gaze.

I had entered the camp a stranger. Alien in my language, my nationality and my youth yet welcomed into your home of 69 years. The composed near acceptance of your fate guided my own, as though a longing for death over life was legitimized, a normality of war’s disease. As if paralyzed submission could lessen the torment.  

For hours you talked with such easy grace, to the stranger with polished teeth and tailored clothes. The weight of your reality didn’t entangle me at first, dancing beyond my minds immediate distraction, so focused I was on breathing the gasoline air of your planet. Your smile had tricked me to mimic what language could not translate, the wrinkles in your eyes deceitful. I had smiled back.

I learned your hidden stories. The horse you rode as a child, the childhood adoration you still held for your uncle, the balding friend to your left who would only pick at the frays of a striped shirt cuff. I memorized the three cracked lines on your left cheek, the crow’s splintered in the pretense of laughter. How their beaks ran crooked when you recalled being kidnapped for three days. How they squinted during the memory of hiding from gunmen at 9 years’ old. How I couldnt meet them when you nearly lost that uncle, had to watch him play dead to escape capture. 

I had glimpsed your world, one that should not exist, and my eyes burned from it. From a place where time ran so slow that it was as if the light of my lands artificial sun would never quite reach you, condemning your spectrum into an infinite decay.

And your words attack me now. Their potency seeps into the glass imprints of my memory, endlessly gluttonous on the hollow wealth of my own worlds insincerity, that offers so much but leaves the body empty. No words I had could console nor a gift to give- my shoes were all I had and they lay shredded after the first mile of your path.

So I left your world quickly, no memory of where exactly it had been or how to retrace my footsteps. I remember the guard at the entrance, how easily I had trespassed and the oversized blue of UNICEF backpacks dotted on ant children- stronger than their time. My clothes were musk scented for days, my body coaxing itself to breathe once more the farther we drove away, as though my atmosphere was now too rich for paper lungs.

The more time passes, the easier the facts appear. One by one, over and over. I will never see you again. I will not watch you making bread to sell nor folding scarves in the foyer. I won’t ever know if you found an olive tree.

Every moment of our conversation should not have existed. The bubble you spun in that paper world cocooned 36 minutes of audiotaped accents, and now, in reflection, I struggle to separate the colossal weight of your story with the integrity of my presence. Would I share this moment with others? Would I post a photograph of us smiling on social media to ease my conscience? It was as though you inadvertently gifted me something sacred that to display would be to prostitute. I, infected, had carried the worst pollution your quarantined limbo had yet breathed; ignorance.

I learned in the days that followed that the world’s oldest olive trees bloom in Lebanon. But none grow in the camp. The walls too close for daylight, the ground too choked with wires that their roots would only subsidize life with momentary electricity.

But with every recollection, I am thankful for that shock of consciousness.